Cal downs No. 21 Utah behind 19 points from Ivan Rabb

Cal starts conference play 2-0 with an upset win over No. 21 Utah at Haas Pavilion, with freshman Ivan Rabb scoring a career-best 19 points and pulling down 10 rebounds for his seventh double-double of the season.

Utah's Jakob Poeltl is widely considered one of, if not the pre-eminent big man in the Pac-12. The two-time conference Player of the Week certainly entered Pac-12 play at the head of the class, but on Sunday, California's Ivan RabbKameron Rooks and Kingsley Okoroh certainly had quite a bit to say, as the Bears polished off a 2-0 opening to the Pac-12 portion of the schedule with a dominant 71-58 win over the No. 21 Utes, moving to 11-0 at Haas Pavilion this season.

With Cal low-post great Leon Powe in the stands, Rabb scored a team- and personal season-high 19 points, with 10 rebounds, for his seventh double-double. tallied three blocks, giving Cal (12-3, 2-0 in Pac-12) 78 on the season. In his past three games, Okoroh has swatted away 11 shots. The Bears notched four total blocks on the Utes (11-4, 0-2).

Rooks scored six points on 2-of-3 shooting and went 2-of-2 at the line, with just two rebound, but his 17 minutes -- which included a baby hook over Poeltl -- were crucial to dismissing Utah.

“Poeltl was even better than I thought live," head coach Cuonzo Martin said. "Credit goes to their staff in his development. He’s tough to defend with his size, skill level and athleticism.”

“He’s a very good player, really tall, long and athletic and did what everyone thought he would do tonight," Rabb said of Poeltl. "I have to hand it to our bigs Kam and King. They did a really good job today and forced him to use his off-hand a little bit. I have to give it to them, because they defended really well today.”

“If we defend, it doesn’t matter who is on the floor. We have some guys who are good basketball players and some score better than others. But if we defend at a high level, it doesn’t matter who is on the floor. If they are struggling to get a shot off or even a pass every time down the floor, then you’ve done your job.” -- Cuonzo Martin

But, defend him, Cal did. Poeltl did get his shots -- going 6-of-14 for 19 points, and hitting 7-of-9 from the free throw line and pulling down 10 boards -- but he was one of just two Utes who reached double figures in points (the other being guard Brandon Taylor, who scored 15 on 5-of-8 shooting, with five assists).

"The bigs did great today," said Jordan Mathews. "It speaks to their mental toughness that they didn't pull back after early foul trouble."

Okoroh had three fouls by the end of the first half, and Rooks had two -- leading to three trips to the line for Poeltl (who turned those into four points) -- but Rooks only fouled twice more in the second half, and Okoroh once, limiting Poeltl to just two rebounds in the second stanza. “They did a great job," Mathews said. "Kam and King battle each other and Ivan every day, so going against another big like (Jakob) Poeltl is nothing they haven’t experienced before, but I think it speaks to their mental toughness that they didn’t lower their aggression despite having three fouls early. They played the same way and were able to close out the game for us.”

In contrast to Poeltl, Rabb went off in the second half, scoring 17 of his 19 points after the break, and pulling down four rebounds while going 6-of-8 from the field.

"[Jaylen] Brown said it all when he said ‘go ahead and go into your bag,” and Ivan reached into his bag of tricks," Mathews said. "He used his post-work, going right, going left and he is extremely hard to guard. It’s like that in practice and we see it every day, so when he does it in the game, it’s nothing new. At the same time, when he’s bumping like that, you have got to give him the ball every time down.”

“I definitely was more aggressive, but I think it was more my teammates pushing me," Rabb said. "Everybody was telling me ‘go ahead, you can score if you want to score.’ If I catch the ball, I’m trying to get a bucket. Of course I will always hit the open man, but in this case I was trying to get a bucket or get to the free throw line.”

Rabb's 10 rebounds were more than a quarter of the Bears' 39 total boards -- 11 more than Utah.

“That should be him," Martin said of Rabb's offensvie performance, which saw him go 7-of-12 from the field and 5-of-6 from the free throw line, with just two personal fouls. "He has that skill. It’s not new to see that. When he gets to the point where he demands the ball every time down, it will be tough.” In fact, both Rabb and freshman Jaylen Brown stayed out of foul trouble (Brown had nine points on 4-of-11 shooting, and seven rebounds), each with two fouls. The most impressive number for Brown, though, was his four assists. He was second only to senior point guard Tyrone Wallace's six on the team on Sunday, as Cal dealt out 15 assists on 26 field goals, going 26-of-59 from the field.

While the shooting night wasn't an exceptional one for the Bears, it certainly seems that Martin's message about tenacious defense has gotten through. Cal held Utah -- which came into the game shooting over 50% from the field -- to just 38.5% from the field, with senior forward Jordan Loveridge going just 2-of-5 from the field for a paltry six points, with three turnovers.

The Bears went on a 15-5 run to take a 23-13 lead with five minutes remaining in the first half, with Utah going 2-for-8 with three turnovers in that span.

One of the big factors on defense for the Bears was junior point guard Sam Singer. The Miami native finished with a pedestrian six points on 3-of-5 shooting and one assist, but it was his defense that helped carry the day. In fact, other than Rabb's +20 rating, Singer's was the highest on the team, with a +16.

“He is a great stabilizer for us. He does a lot of stuff that doesn’t really show up on the stat sheet, but he’s always moving the ball and always getting us together," said Mathews. "He’s been great for us and he played great defense on (Jordan) Loveridge, (Brandon) Taylor at times, (Isaiah) Wright; it didn’t matter who it was, but Sam was helping us there.” fact, the Bears forced nine turnovers by Utah, and scored 14 points off of those turnovers, while also tallying 12 offensive rebounds and 14 second-chance points. This was an opportunistic, disciplined and focused team that seems to have learned from its mistakes in a one-point overtime loss to then-No. 8 Virginia, a win Cal let slip away after leading by as many as 11 in the second half.

The Utes did make things interesting in the second half on Sunday, as Utah pulled to within three -- 49-46 -- with 7:58 left, but after the Poeltl dunk made it a one-possession game, Cal went on a 22-12 run to end the game, starting with a 13-5 run over the next 3:44, during which Rabb scored seven points, and Mathews chimed in with a three-pointer.

Mathews, for the second game in a row, was nails in the second half, scoring 12 of his 14 points after halftime, nailing 3-of-5 from beyond the three-point arc. 

“I got to the line early and have been trying to work on other things to get myself started in the game and help us win," Mathews said. "Earlier in the game I got a rebound and hit JB (Brown) up the court for an easy layup, so when your shot is not falling, you have to do other things. You have to rebound, you have to defend, so that actually helped me get my shot going and helped me be able to make plays.”

“I’m really happy for Jordan," said Martin. "He’s probably the guy I’ve rode the hardest since I’ve been here as far as playing hard on defense. He’s really grown up as a basketball player. He’s a strong player and a good athlete. He was just so consumed with shooting balls, he didn’t’ understand the importance of defense. Now he wants to be the best player he can be. He’s a student of the game.”

After the game, Mathews went up to guards coach Yann Hufnagel and asked, "Who am I defending next?"

Utah did, however, make things close again, getting to within six points with 2:01 left, after a three-point play by Loveridge, thanks to a foul from Brown, to cap off a 7-4 run, but then, Singer answered with a jumper to get the lead back up to 10, and the Utes went scoreless for the final 53 seconds.

“Sometimes if you have a breakdown and a guy hits a three, guys put their heads down," Martin said. "We stayed with it and kept our composure. Good teams make plays. They are a really good team. They aren’t going to think the game is over until the buzzer sounds.” Top Stories